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WheelchairsThat's Wheelie Gross study calls for guidelines for wheelchair cleaning in healthcare settings

Wheelchairs are a common sight in healthcare institutions, from emergency rooms to rehab hospitals to long-term care homes. A recent study by Bridgepoint's Collaboratory for Research and Innovation published in the American Journal of Infection Control has shown that there are no clear guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting these complex pieces of equipment.

The findings of the study are especially important given that healthcare associated infections are prevalent in Canadian hospitals, and the cleaning of shared medical equipment is essential to preventing these infections.

Paula Gardner and her team of researchers (which included Occupational Therapists and Infection Control Specialists) interviewed respondents from 48 healthcare facilities across Canada to determine the status of wheelchair cleaning and disinfection. 

Study respondents, which included representation from acute care hospitals, chronic care hospitals and long-term care facilities, were very concerned about wheelchair cleaning as an infection control issue.

Some highlights from the results:

  • At 85% of the facilities, services related to wheelchair cleaning, maintenance and tracking were shared across departments.
  • Participants identified a high level of concern (median 8 on a 10 point Likert scale) regarding infection control issues related to wheelchairs at their facility. Concerns included the lack of reliable systems for tracking and identifying clean and dirty wheelchairs, failure to consistently clean and disinfect wheelchairs between patients, and a lack of cleaning guidelines and protocols.
  • 100% of respondents indicated that any protocols that do exist were not based on any specific guidelines or best practices because they believed that such guidelines do not exist.

The respondents provided some recommended solutions, which included adopting a set of written guidelines and procedures for wheelchair cleaning and disinfection based on best practices.

The authors note that the lack of literature on wheelchair-related infection is more likely related to the failure to consider wheelchairs as a vector rather than a lack of wheelchair-associated infections.

Perhaps the maintenance and infection control of wheelchairs is an unexpected research topic; however it is just this type of research that produces the policies and best practices that will help improve patient outcomes in the real world setting.